This week at the Fantasia Film Festival

This week at the Fantasia Film Festival
Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival began on Aug. 20 and continues till Sept. 2, bringing genre cinema right into your home thanks to their pandemic-friendly online-only edition. Here is our latest round-up:

Tezuka’s Barbara

In a perpetually downbeat Tokyo, renowned author and tortured pervert Yosuke Mikura (an unflappable Gorô Inagaki) finds Barbara nearly passed out drunk at a train station. Intrigued by her quoting poetry, the novelist brings her home. She challenges him to be a better artist but also disrupts his own sexual fantasies. Soon, she leads him into a strange underbelly of Tokyo, soundtracked by jazz and littered with junkyards, fetish night clubs and black masses.As people close to him die of strange causes, Yosuke has to wonder who is the mysterious muse he brought into his home and whether he can live without her.It’s hard to read Barbara’s synopsis and not think about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype: a type of character who is made to “help their men without pursuing their own happiness.”The titular Barbara (a dreamy Fumi Nikaido) is definitely such an apparition and Makoto Tezuka’s movie (adapting his late father Osamu’s ’70s manga) comes to life when it suggests that Yosuke’s misfit muse has occult origins. However, the movie opts to follow well-trod clichés about muses, obsessed artists and the purity of art.Cinematographer Christopher Doyle creates an urban world that’s equal parts seedy and colourful, with the graphic clarity of the original manga. Combined with the jazz sounds of Ichiko Hashimoto, Tezuka’s Barbara lives in a city that feels like yesterday’s Tokyo, despite the presence of smartphones and laptops.Barbara is an interesting outlier in the God of Manga’s immense output. It was quite new as an erotically tinged thriller story in the ’70s but transposed as a movie now, it loses some of its spark, despite being a faithful adaptation. (Yannick Belzil)Tezuka’s Barbara screens Tuesday, Aug. 25, 9:30 p.m. and on Friday, Aug. 28, 5 p.m.

A Mermaid in Paris

A Mermaid in Paris (Fantasia Film Festival)

French musician, writer and director Mathias Malzieu paints a fantastical portrait of the City of Lights in his first live-action film, A Mermaid in Paris, an unashamedly corny love story between a cabaret singer named Gaspard (Nicolas Duvauchelle) and Lula (Marilyn Lima), a mermaid he saves from the Seine. Crammed with kitschy décor, outlandishly dressed characters and an absurd soundtrack of vaudevillian tunes, it’s a bit reminiscent of the particular brand of French magic realism found in films like Amélie or Delicatessen, albeit sillier and much more light-hearted.

A cabaret singer performing nightly in his family’s kooky boat speakeasy, Gaspard had given up on love until he finds Lula bleeding blue on the banks of Paris’s famous river. After an unsuccessful trip to the hospital, he decides to nurse her back to health in his apartment, dropping her in his bathtub to the amusement of Rossy, a nosy neighbour obsessed with Gaspard’s love life (played by one of Pedro Almodovar’s faves, Rossy de Palma). Lula demands to be thrown back into the water, because any man who meets her dies from an exploding heart and she doesn’t want that to happen to dear Gaspard.

If you couldn’t tell by the movie’s poster or summary, this is so sickly sweet, it might be for children, or for grown-up children still entertained by musical fairy tales and magical love stories (ahem, guilty). There are some technical oddities here. The movie sometimes flows as if Malzieu pictured different vignettes, but struggled with how to piece them together and so he abruptly fades to black between scenes. Perhaps it was a choice to make it feel like chapters of a tale? Some of the ideas also don’t pan out as well as others, like the inclusion of a revenge plot involving a doctor in a sterile hospital environment that buzzkills the magic of the other locations. There’s also a kissing aquarium scene that had me thinking that maybe Malzieu thinks The Shape of Water is a cinematic B-side no one saw. In short, A Mermaid in Paris might not make your heart explode, but it will surely charm and distract you from the hellfire of 2020 for a bit. (Roxane Hudon)

A Mermaid in Paris screens Thursday, Aug. 27, 7:15 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 30, 1 p.m.

Free Country

Free Country (Fantasia Film Festival)

Every fellow fan of British and European crime TV shows or movies will tell you that there are a few elements required for a winning murder-mystery formula. First off, you need a small town where everyone knows and suspects each other, which usually comes with sweeping shots of the desolate landscapes surrounding said town. Then you’ll need a detective with a checkered past — maybe he did something bad for his career recently and that’s why he’s been sent to a shitty small town; maybe he has a drinking problem. Bonus points if it’s a detective team made up of two fucked up cops with wildly different personalities and ways of approaching the investigation! Throw in the disappearance of young women and we’ve got a perfect crime party.

I’m happy to report that Germany’s Free Country, a remake of a Spanish film by director Christian Alvart, ticks off all the boxes. Set in 1992 after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, it features two cops who previously worked on opposite sides: Patrick Stein, a self-righteous father-to-be from Hamburg (Trystan Pütter), and Markus Bach, a loud, heavy-drinking mustachioed former member of the Stasi who doesn’t mind knocking suspects about to get some answers (Felix Kramer). They join forces in Löwitz, a gritty eastern German town near the border with Poland, where two teenage sisters have gone missing.

Alvart strings the audience along for a dark and moody ride that twists around a secret village drug ring, a psychic lady on a boat, a creepy Gothic hunting lodge, angry striking factory workers and a handsome bad boy with naughty intentions and ties to the missing girls. The still-fresh political tensions between East and West serves as the perfect backdrop, while the unresolved issues of both detectives give us more secrets to unpack throughout the film. Crime lovers, this is your fix at Fantasia! (RH)

Free Country is available on-demand until Sept. 2.

Hail to the Deadites

Hail to the Deadites (Fantasia Film Festival)

It stands to reason that Fantasia would be the perfect film festival to showcase Hail to the Deadites, Steve Villeneuve’s loving paean to the Evil Dead fandom (of which he is very obviously a card-carrying member). Villeneuve is from Quebec, after all, and I’d imagine the second-best place to find Evil Dead fans would be in line at Fantasia. (The best would be an Evil Dead convention, of course.) Hail to the Deadites is bursting with love for the cult of Evil Dead, but like all documentaries about niche fandom and collecting, it makes little effort to appeal to those who aren’t already completely on-board.

I say this as an avowed obsessive nerd and collector of other, non-Evil Dead-related things: it’s not so much that Hail to the Deadites does a bad job of exploring the fandom, it’s that anything you’re a die-hard fan of is of limited appeal to the outside. Just as my poring over the minutiae of 1970s Japanese folk records is severely uninteresting to my friends and family, there’s a logical limit to how interesting this tale of people driving across the country to dress up like Bruce Campbell and perhaps hold a prop from the movie in their hands can be to a mere mortal. The lack of a clear narrative thread (it’s mostly just a road trip to various conventions) doesn’t help, though the enthusiasm is infectious enough to keep you watching. (Alex Rose)

Hail to the Deadites is available on-demand until Sept. 2. 

Hunted

Hunted (Fantasia Film Festival)

There are aspects of Hunted that suggest there might be more to it than standard-issue rape/revenge — the fact that it’s directed by comic book artist and Persepolis co-director Vincent Paronnaud, for example, or the film’s brief dalliances into magical realism. But most of the film is content to sit on broadly familiar references (our heroine is decked out in a red hoodie, for starters) and vigorous if rather unambitious genre tropes. Though it was never in particularly good taste, the rape-revenge film has aged rather poorly as a genre, and I’m not sure that faithful recreation necessarily counts as a subversive act.

Maybe I’m being unnecessarily glib. As I mentioned earlier, Hunted is obvious but expedient and surprisingly good-looking considering it’s such an ugly movie at its core. Lucie Debay stars as “the woman,” a young professional who stops in for a drink at a bar after work and is soon rid of an aggressive suitor thanks to “the man” (Arieh Worthaler), a nice enough guy who is supposedly hanging out with his brother, whose wife just died. As the woman finds out when she decides to go home with the man, he’s not so nice, the men are not brothers, and his entire deal seems to be that his only goal in life is to make a snuff film. The man releases the woman into the woods, where he and his dim-witted acolyte hunt her for hours on end.

With an animated prologue that leans heavily on wolf imagery, Hunted at the very least makes its metaphor clear but not particularly compelling, as the film becomes more uncomfortable and oppressive without necessarily saying anything relevant. One would argue that the point of a movie like this one is to shock and disturb; in that sense, Hunted certainly goes the extra mile by making its lead villain a violent misogynist prone to long diatribes about all the injustices women have caused him, but there’s precious little to chew on (pun intended) here. (AR)Hunted screens on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 5 p.m.

To see the complete Fantasia Festival program and more details about tickets and streaming, please visit their website.

For more film and TV coverage, please visit our Film & TV section.
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